Are You Under-Appreciating the Role of Appreciation?

Paul Boag

If you want to encourage people to follow through on your calls to action, or existing customers to promote your brand, you need to show you appreciate them.

Thank you. Seriously, thank you. Thank you for investing your time in reading this post. I know there are millions of articles you could read, so the fact you have chosen to spend your time reading this one is astounding to me. I sincerely hope it makes a real difference in the effectiveness of your site.

With so much choice online, it makes sense to show a degree of appreciation.

Okay, I admit it. I have an ulterior motive for thanking you because I want to talk about the importance of appreciation. But, I did also mean it, and I find it frustrating how few people thank those who complete a call to action.

It is frustrating because it is not just a kind thing to do, it also makes a lot of business sense.

The Business of Appreciation

First, most consumers feel under-appreciated by companies. Sure, they will sign up for a newsletter to get something from it, but they know it benefits the company more than them.

Most people feel that companies will take every opportunity to squeeze everything they can out of them given half a chance. They are immediately on guard and cynical. They expect companies to manipulate them and take advantage of them.

That provides an enormous opportunity to surprise and delight people. A chance to connect with them, build trust and stand out from the crowd. All it costs is a little appreciation.

Showing you appreciate your customers will go a long way to standing out from the crowd.

But there is another consideration that makes showing appreciation a great business decision for encouraging action, and that is a psychological characteristic called reciprocation.

Reciprocation is our desire to repay kindness, and it can be a powerful way to turn people into advocates for your brand. If you show you appreciate people, they will want to show you in turn. That may be recommending you to others, but it could just as readily be agreeing to signup to your newsletter or completing some other call to action.

So how do we show people we appreciate them? Well, it starts by simply thanking them.

Thank People

The fact that I am sitting here telling you to thank users for completing a call to action feels somewhat silly. Surely this is just common courtesy that we do naturally in every other part of life? However, for some reason online it doesn’t seem to happen much!

Take for example the Hope of Bethesda website I run for a small charity helping children in rural India. When somebody clicks on the donate button, even before they select an amount, I thank them for being willing to give.

Thanking a user for starting a call to action process encourages them to complete it.

I suppose you could argue that there is a greater necessity to thank people on a charity website because they’re not getting anything in return. But this is about more than merely showing appreciation.

Notice that the person hasn’t yet completed my call to action. In fact on average only 15% of people who started donation process finish it. I, therefore, want to encourage them to follow through on the process they have begun.

Most 'calls to action' involved this kind of multistep process, and so anything we can do to motivate people to keep going this worthwhile.

Thanking them is not only polite, but it is also acknowledging that they have committed to completing the call to action. A funny thing happens when you do that. People feel obliged to complete the process because they want to be seen to do something they have said they will do. Psychologically this is often referred to as a commitment bias.

The fact that nobody is observing us does not impact our behaviour in such situations. Thanking them generates a similar response.

Researchers carried out an experiment using an honesty jar that people were required to put money in when they had a tea or coffee in an office. They discovered that merely placing a photograph of a pair of eyes watching people was enough to significantly increase the number of people putting money in the jar. People knew they were not being watched, but it still triggered the same response.

Something as simple as a pair of eyes can influence our behaviour.

Thanks to Shutterstock for the use of the above image.

So not only is thanking people the right thing to do, but it’ll also has a direct impact on conversion. But merely acknowledging people will not be enough to show we truly appreciate them. We need to go further.

Listen and Respond to People

The problem is that many organisations still have the broadcast mindset of the mass media age. We produce products and then broadcast the benefits of those products to consumers in the hopes that they might be convinced.

But today consumers are talking back. The web has enabled people to express their likes and frustration via social media and review sites. Every day they are telling you exactly what they want and what they need. We need to listen.

By monitoring this kind of feedback, we get real insights into the factors that influence their decision to act. We should be paying close attention to the questions people ask and the objections they express. If we can address these in the copy associated with our calls to action, we will see a shift in the number of people acting.

After all, it is important to remember that for every one user who expresses their thoughts online, there will be many, many more who do not.

But it is not enough to listen. If we want to show users we appreciate them; we also need to respond. If we do not answer when a consumer expresses a concern or asks a question, they (and everybody else) will presume that you don’t care.

A failure to listen and respond to customer feedback will undermine future conversions.

I can give you an excellent example of this from my personal experience. Recently I switched energy supplier, and when considering my options, I checked out the various apps of suppliers as this was going to be the primary way I would interact with these companies. The app of my preferred supplier was full of negative reviews which in itself put me off. However, the supplier had not bothered to respond to any of those reviews, which concerned me all the more. Did they not care about those customers who have expressed frustration?

That inattention to existing customers heavily influenced my decision as to whether to complete their call to action and sign up.

Failing to appreciate existing customers is just as bad (if not worse) for conversion as failing to recognise it when future customers are choosing to act.

How then do we show we appreciate our existing customers and turn them into advocates who actively promote our brands and influence prospective customers?

Appreciating Existing Customers

I have been a customer of MailChimp for years. One day out of the blue I received a package from them. It contained a silly woolly hat based on their logo and a handwritten note thanking me for being a customer.

It was thoughtful, fun and personal. I loved it, and immediately I felt an overwhelming desire to thank MailChimp, to reciprocate in some way. I put the hat on my son, snapped a photo and posted it on Twitter with a note thanking MailChimp.

A free gift from Mailchimp both made me feel appreciated and encouraged me to reciprocate.

That little example teaches us a couple of valuable lessons that we can learn.

First, the package contained a handwritten note. That made it feel personal. It didn’t feel like a mass marketing initiative.

Personalising an experience means a lot to people, whether they are existing or prospective customers. It says that you go the extra mile to understand and support them.

I am not talking about personalisation, although that has other benefits. I am talking about that human touch. I once checked into a hotel to find a framed collage of various photographs taken from my social feed. It also had a handwritten note expressing a hope this trip created new memories and saying I was welcome to take the collage home.

Although it sounds creepy when I recount the story, it was lovely and made me feel appreciated. I immediately shared the experience with friends online.

Notice the reoccurring theme in both the hotel story and the MailChimp one. I immediately shared the experience online. I did this in part because of reciprocation. I felt the desire to thank those involved for their consideration.

At this point, it is essential to distinguish between an incentive and a gift. An incentive is something we are offered upfront to motivate us into completing a call to action. For example, if MailChimp had offered me the hat if I was willing to sign up it would have been an incentive. I would calculate that into the decision to sign up. It becomes a part of the transaction.

A gift, on the other hand, is given when somebody has already committed to completing the call to action. It is a ‘thank you’ for taking that decision. In essence, there are no strings attached. Only a gift creates that sense of being appreciated and encourages reciprocation.

What all of this shows is that kindness, appreciation and consideration pay off. By appreciating existing customers, you will turn them into advocates who help increase conversion among new customers. By acknowledging new customers who choose to act you encourage them that they have made the right decision and compel them to complete what they have started.

But, most of all, it is just a lovely thing to do.